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February 25, 2018 by Esther Guillen

posted Feb 26, 2018, 8:59 AM by Wesley Photo Directory

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”


In the reading we just heard, Jesus asks his listeners to do two things: to turn away from human things and focus on divine things, and to take up their own cross and follow him. This story, as we know, is from Mark, which is probably the earliest of the New Testament gospels. We think it was written during or just after the Jewish war of 66-73 of the common era, probably after the temple was destroyed in the year 70. This gospel was produced in a wildly, almost incomprehensibly, different society than our own. The casual violence of the first century CE is impossible for most of us here to understand.


Most of us in this room live an ok life. Most of us have enough food to eat, most of us are not subject to violence, most of us have a warm place to sleep at night. I myself am extremely privileged to live the life I do. I’ve always thought of my own crosses as intangible things, personal, inward-focussed crosses, and my own to manage. Crosses like the illness I have to manage every day, or my father dying when I was 18, or having to rebuild my community every few years when I move for school. And these are my crosses. They might be familiar crosses to many of you.


When I was doing my exegetical work on the gospel this week, I was on vacation with my family on Vancouver Island. My sister lives in a small community up-island, and my mum, my step-dad, and I went out there to visit with her for a few days. As many of you know, both my mum and my step-dad are UCC ministers, so I’ve got some pretty great resources in my family. My mum and I were talking this sermon through, and we realized that I sounded like I was going to preach on a pretty awful platitude: “God only gives us as much as we can bear.” I heard that a lot after my dad died, from very well-meaning people who really only wanted to comfort me. But I have to say, at the time, I was extremely bothered by it. Because at the time, it felt like a whole lot more than I could bear. Talking about the support of Jesus didn’t really seem helpful back then. I wanted action. I wanted change. I wanted this to not have happened.


On August 9, 2016, Colten Boushie was shot and killed by Gerald Stanley. Colten was twenty-two, and a member of the Cree Red Pheasant First Nation.


On February 14, 2018, seventeen people were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by Nikolas Jacob Cruz. They were students, teachers, and coaches.


In August of 2017 Myanmar security forces began to move against the Rohingya people in an act of genocide. This genocide continues until today.


During the hundred years that there were residential schools in Canada, over six thousand children died in those schools. Many were buried in unmarked graves.


“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”


On an office door in my hallway at the U of R, there is a poster for a course on Truth and Reconciliation. I walk past it every day, and as a word person, I read the poster again and again when I walk past. There’s a tagline on that poster that has stuck in my head since it went up last fall: “If it feels good, it’s not reconciliation.”


“If it feels good, it’s not reconciliation.”



The four instances I just highlighted might not seem to have much in common. Colten Boushie was killed in rural Saskatchewan, and both his death and the acquittal of Gerald Stanley are related racism in Canada. The school shooting happened in Florida, and seems like a problem of gun-control in the States. The Rohingya genocide is happening on the other side of the world, and the death of thousands of children in residential schools could be thought of as a historical problem.


But if we look at them all together, the thing they have in common is a question of otherness. Colten was other, and this contributed to his death. The teenagers being killed in their schools in the states are other to the National Rifle Association and to many American politicians, and this contributes to their reluctance to truly protect them. The Rohingya are other to the soldiers of Myanmar, and must therefor be removed, by any means necessary. And the children killed in Canadian residential schools were the ultimate other for Canadians of the time. Their lives were worth less. Their deaths meant less.


I’m not quite a millennial, not quite a generation y-er. I grew up in the days before Harry Potter and the Hunger Games, before the internet and social media, like most of the people in this room. This is not the case for teenagers now. They were raised on a steady diet of Harry Potter and the Hunger Games, two stories that teach us we can respond to otherness with compassion, we can stand up for the rights of all people, we can choose life over death and love over complacency.


We have our inward crosses, our personal and interior concerns to manage.


But we also have our outward crosses, those crosses that the teenagers of Florida and elsewhere are taking up, those that the me too and times up movement have brought to light, those activists in the United Church have long seen as theirs to bear. Jesus does not say think only about god, when he says turn your mind to divine things and take up your cross. He instead asks us to think about what gods kin-dom would look like. What would it look like if we actively began to think of the other as one of us? What would it look like if we, when we could, took up the cross of justice, and said together, the time for complacency is over?